Australian companies have the lowest percentage of women in top executive roles compared to other developed countries including New Zealand, the United States and Canada. In fact the number of Australian women on boards and in senior executive positions has not changed significantly in the last 20 years, even though there has been much dialogue about the positive benefits.
Given there is general acceptance that having women on boards and in executive teams is vital for ensuring a diversity of views and for enriching an organisation’s capabilities, what dynamics are keeping female representation in leadership roles so low?
Could it be that the numbers are due to a perceived lack of capability, or is it something to do with the Australian culture? Or perhaps it has to do with women not wanting to participate at the more senior levels? Could it be a combination of all these factors (and more) which results in an unconscious belief bias?
In my experience, until female representation in leadership positions is genuinely considered a strategic imperative and indeed a strategic advantage, it is unlikely that diversity of thinking will become an everyday possibility in senior teams and boardrooms across Australia.
Women also have a role to play in driving this change. A key possibility for opening up the leadership doorway involves choice. Women need to want to take up a seat at the leadership table as it becomes available. And, like anyone aspiring towards key leadership, there is also the choice involved in developing confidence and leadership capacity – which includes broadening their capacity to think and act differently, challenging limiting beliefs and assumptions as well as learning new skills.
So, how can women become more confident and effective as leaders?
Choose to participate
Many women have questioned the path towards earning and keeping a seat at the senior table or boardroom, particularly in male dominated industries. Many look at how the game is played at the senior levels of organisations and make a clear and conscious choice to not participate.
It appears that in professions or industries such as human resources, education, health care and small business, where the representation of women holding senior positions is more proportional, this isn’t the case. So why is it generally different at the most senior levels in medium to larger organisations (private and public)?
A couple of years ago, a senior executive I was working with in the banking industry, expressed his concern about the lack of diverse views and thinking in his team as there were too few women reporting to him. He set about to change this but found it hard for two reasons.
Firstly, because there were few women available with the requisite capabilities, time availability and willingness – his functional area was renowned for being “blokey”.
Secondly, because within the organisational norm there was a deeply held belief that only males were capable of holding down the majority of the executive and board positions – with few exceptions.
Roma Gaster is the Director of The Leadership Circle Asia Pacific, a private company that offers a leadership and development program. For more information visit the website: www.theleadershipcircle.com